5 Musicians You Didn’t Know Were Homeless

The world can be very harsh. Especially for those looking to make a name for themselves in a career that goes against the conventional grain. No, there are no college or high school courses about how to become a famous rock musician. No, there is little to no literature about how to make it on your own as a struggling artist.

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While most everyday people look down on those looking to make it big, there are ways, nevertheless, to sacrifice and achieve your dreams. These five names below are prime examples of that. Below are some of the biggest names in music, all of whom have also been homeless along the way. If they can do it, anyone can—just ask them.

1. Beck

The “Loser” singer moved from L.A. to New York City in 1989 with $8 and a six-string. While there, he slept on couches and wherever he could, playing songs and writing lyrics about mundane things like pizza as part of the city’s burgeoning anti-folk movement. As the ’90s dawned, however, Beck was facing another New York winter homeless. So, in 1991 he went back to L.A. where he was previously born and raised.

“I was tired of being cold, tired of getting beat up,” said Beck of this time. “It was hard to be in New York with no money, no place […] I kinda used up all the friends I had. Everyone on the scene got sick of me.”

Today, Beck is a multi-time Grammy Award-winner.

2. Lizzo

Born in Detroit, Lizzo moved to Houston at 10 years old. She later studied at the University of Houston. But at 21, after her father died and her family moved to Denver, Lizzo stayed in Houston and lived out of friends’ houses and her car for a year as she worked to grow her career. Later, she dropped out of college and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2011, where she caught the attention of Prince, who brought her in to work on music. In 2019 she became a star thanks, in part, to her song “Juice.”

“. . . When it was actually happening to me, I didn’t think of myself as homeless,” Lizzo told NPR in 2019, considering the silver lining of her time homeless. She added, “I think that I had a luxury and a privilege to be able to sleep on the floor of my drummer’s house, to be able to sleep in a car my sister gave me, to be able to sleep at the studio where my rock band performed, to be able to sneak into 24-Hour Fitness and use the showers there.”

3. Malina Moye

Accomplished upside-down left-handed guitar player Malina Moye moved to California from Minneapolis to pursue her passion for music and performance. But at the time, she had just $20 in her pocket. She washed up in gas stations. She scrounged for change in parks. She slept in her car between the front and back seats with clothes covering her so no one would notice her face. These were the early days before her Billboard chart-topping record, Bad as I Wanna Be, and viral single, “Enough.”

“If you take away someone’s hope, you take away everything,” Moye told American Songwriter in 2020. “Music gives me hope. It has taken me all over the world. I feel like I’m just getting started. The world is finally opening up.”

4. Jerry Cantrell

In the mid-to-late ’80s when the grunge movement was just beginning to kick off in Seattle, one of its biggest players was homeless, kicked out of his house. Cantrell, who would form the band that would become Alice in Chains with the talented vocalist Layne Staley, had been sent away from his family’s house in the summer of 1987. That’s when Staley invited Cantrell to live with him at his 24-hour rehearsal studio. Staley’s band, which was named Alice ‘N Chains, broke up and he and Cantrell began to play music together, forming the bond and foundation for what would later become the seminal Grammy-winning group Alice in Chains.

5. Ed Sheeran

The “Shape of You” singer has talked about his life living under bridges as a young artist. Writing in his book, A Visual Journey, Sheeran would sleep under bridges from 2008-2010. He would also sleep on trains and under an arch outside of the iconic Buckingham Palace. He busked at all hours of the night to earn money and he sought out a strategy for safe places. It’s a far cry from the globally recognizable figure he is today. In his book, he wrote, “There was an arch outside Buckingham palace that has a heating duct and I spent a couple of nights there…I didn’t have anywhere to live for much of 2008 and the whole of 2009 and 2010, but somehow I made it work.” 

Sheeran added, “I knew where I could get a bed at a certain time of night and I knew who I could call at any time to get a floor to sleep on. Being sociable helped. Drinking helped. I spent a week catching up on sleep on Circle Line trains. I’d go out and play a gig, wait until 5 am when the Underground opened, sleep on the Circle Line until 12, go to a session – and then repeat. It wasn’t that bad.”

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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